Model, Text and Photos by: Joe Frazier
Czech Models Corporation is rapidly becoming known for producing excellent models of lesser known but important military aircraft, one of which is their Kit 4811 Curtiss A-8 "Shrike."
The Curtiss Shrike was developed in 1930, due to the desire of the United States Army Air Force for a new attack aircraft. The A-8 version consisted of 13 aircraft in which three different engines were tested, none of which was adequate to ensure high performance. A later version, the A12, using a more powerful radial engine, performed better. The Shrike was something of a hybrid, incorporating new developments such as automatic leading edge slats, trailing edge flaps, metal skin for most surfaces, a three blade propeller and an internal bomb bay, while at the same time retaining flying wires, fixed landing gear, and an open cockpit and crew area . Of the 13 A-8 versions built, 11 saw active service in the mid 1930's, and then later were relegated to second echelon duty. Although never utilized in a combat role with the USAAF, 10 A-12 aircraft were shipped to China in 1936, and reassembled at Hangchow. The Chinese were so impressed with the possibilities of the aircraft that they ordered 10 more. All of these 20 aircraft were designated for the attack mission, and saw action when the Japanese attacked China in 1937. Few if any survived the opening year of the war.
Construction of the A-8 was challenging, mostly because I chose to open up a lot of areas which were not cut out by the manufacturer. Some of the resin parts need attention and there are parts and areas which will be mentioned later which required some cutting, filling, and file work. However, there is nothing that time and patience won't cure!
For me, most of the work involved the fuselage. I will list the areas I worked on, and then offer what I hope are helpful comments.
These are molded to the fuselage sides, but the model really needs to have them cut out and filled in later with a clear area like the real airplane. I drilled holes in the center of the window areas, and then filed them out. Really not a hard project - you will need a set of small files for this.
Carburetor Air Intake
Again, the front of the intake is molded solid. A more realistic appearance can be achieved by filing out the opening.
Lower Front Radiator
Here again, the model comes with this part as a resin insert. This part is one of the real problem areas of the kit. It is beautifully cast (that's the good news) but is set on a thick resin base (which is the bad news). . Lots of sawing, cutting, sanding, and mild swearing at this point of the build! Be careful and remember to dry fit as many times as it takes to get a good fit. I had to use filler and some Evergreen plastic stock to close up gaps and get a smooth anchor to the fuselage. You will definitely need to plan on puttying this area and sanding it for a smooth blend to the fuselage.
The oil cooler housing is molded as part of the forward fuselage, and the builder is to insert the two resin cooler parts into this section. However, this leaves a funny open gap above the two resin parts. I filled this open area around the two coolers with epoxy filler. Otherwise, you can look straight through the cooler!
I recommend you do what I did and glue a strip of Evergreen or other plastic sheeting inside the slots for the exhausts in order to make backing plates for gluing. If you do not, chances are very good that you will lose one or both down inside the fuselage when you try to glue them in.
I had to do some sanding and fitting on various parts of the cockpit tub area to get a smooth interior fit. Lots of dry fitting here will be a big help. The instrument panel is a work of art, but requires some fiddling to get placed. The cockpit interior sidewalls are sparse, but until someone comes out with an aftermarket set, they will do. Most of the attention is focused on the seat and gas tank behind the pilot anyway. The pilots' seat is very well done with nicely added harness. The gunner's area is very sparse, but again this is mostly hidden by the large greenhouse over the area, and the raised machine gun also adds a nice interest touch back there. Remember to dry fit. NOTE: I found that shaving the outside edges of the floorboard helped a lot, but do this a little at a time with the sidewalls tacked on until it fits into the crew space evenly.
Flying Wire Anchor Point
The model includes small anchor points for the upper and lower flying wires. I strongly recommend that you do what I did and drill out four holes in the fuselage side and let the wires go in there. Otherwise you have to try to glue them to a very small and thin plastic part. When the time came, I filled in around the wires with epoxy, which I then sanded and shaped to look like the anchor point. Turned out very well, and is very strong. Added benefit? Those wires are not coming undone without a pair of pliers and a very hard pull!! I must have bumped mine literally a dozen times during final constructon, and if they had been glued to that tiny resin part, they would have broken every time!!
Fuel Tank Bracing
I replaced the very fragile (I broke mine) resin fuel tank braces which go to the tank behind the pilot's seat with some bent wire stock. Once in place, it is very strong, and that comes in handy later on when you glue the fuselage sides together.
Be sure to sand and fit these right and left parts carefully. They require some sanding and cleaning up and the round bases need to be filed and shaped a bit. After you are satisfied with the cleanup, dry fit them for placement to the fuselage and wing until you get a good flush fit. You will have to do a little careful sanding for this. I recommend you glue the struts to each fuselage side and wing before painting. This will call for some creative brush work and masking later, but if you don't do it this way, you run the risk of getting glue on your painted fuselage sides and wings.
Wheel Pants Flying Wire Anchor Points
Again, you are furnished with kit parts for the wheel pant anchor point, but they are small, and require some cleaning up If you use them, you have to attach four flying wires to a space about ¼ inch long, so I cut notches in the end of the part, at points which would align with the proper spacing of the flying wires so that later I could have a stable glue point. If you don't do this, you will have the same problem you would have topside - that is, wires or sprues butt jointed to a small piece with the danger of breaking them loose. With the notch, you have a very strong attachment point, which I then covered with epoxy sanded smooth to cover up the notches I had made. Like the top, this gives you a very strong and secure join. I can literally pick my model up at any of the four joins without fear of breakage!! (Not that I have tried it more than once).
The rear canopy is nicely molded, but enough larger than the fuselage to be a small problem. There is a way out! If you look closely, the aft section lower frame of the canopy is actually higher than the forward section. If you cut this out, you can measure a strip of plastic stock wide enough to fill the area which will now be open at the back of the canopy, and then you can glue this strip to each cockpit side at the proper place. This will do three things: (1) Look better, since you will now have good representations of the canopy frames, whereas if you don't do it, you will see that the lower rear section below the actual frame just looks like vacuform plastic. (2) You will have a solid glue point for the rear of the canopy - always a good thing when trying to glue vacuform pieces. (3). You will get enough increased height to let the front part of the canopy fit much better around the compound curve of the fuselage. As you glue it. If you don't do this, you can glue the piece "as is" but it will have a definite squashed look compared to the height of the actual aircraft's rear canopy.
The very prominent aerial mast kit part is very weak, and will definitely not stand up to trying to attach the radio antennae wires which go from it to the end of each wing. I replaced the kit part with heavy plastic stock cut and sanded to shape, which I anchored to the fuselage in a drilled hole filled with expoy.
As you can see, there is a lot of fuselage work to bring the model to the point where the rest of the parts can be added. However, you are done with almost all of the hard part at this point. So now we move on to the rest of the model:
WINGS AND ELEVATORS
No real surprises here. The wings are beautifully molded with recessed detail and fit pretty well. You will have to do some fitting at the front and rear of the fuselage, but nothing too troublesome. As was mentioned earlier, you will definitely have to do some filling, probably with plastic stock as well as putty to close up the gap at the rear of the Prestone radiator.
Also, I found that the lower wing is a bit larger at the wingtip than the upper. After you get them glued, you will need to sand them to the same size. This will cost you the landing lights, but I drilled out two holes where the lights were molded on, put in a drop of green and red on the sides where they belong, and then used clear epoxy for the lights, which looks better anyway!!
The elevators are a very nice fit. Since there are no attachment pins and holes to line up the elevator with the fuselage, I drilled out holes in the end of the elevators and the fuselage attachment points and inserted brass rod in order to have a stronger glue joint. Worked very well. A little putty will fair the elevator inner edge very smoothly into the fuselage section.
Thanks to an excellent review of the A-8 and its construction by Scott Van Aken ( see Model Madness - December 2003), some very helpful comments made by Steve "Modeldad" Eisemann and correspondence with several modeling friends by e-mail, I used their experience to place the landing gear accurately. The kit instructions would have you place the landing gear spats too far inboard. They need to be centered directly under the long rectangular panel which is about ¾ of an inch from the inside edge of the wing. Doing this means you have to do a little reworking of the mating surfaces between the lower wing and the gear spats, so again a careful sand/check to fit/sand process is called for. Also, this means that the support struts from the inside of the spat to the lower fuselage will be a bit too short. I just glued mine where they fit .. they look fine and don't show that much. You could make new ones from flat stock if you want, but it would be a struggle to reproduce the mating surface at each end of the strut.
The resin wheels will fit if you enlarge the opening for them in the bottom of the spat. However, the axle is small and fragile. I broke one immediately and the other not long after while trying to get them in their proper holes before gluing the spat together. I decided the kit wheels would work just fine, and their axles are much stronger.
I represented the two machine guns in each landing gear cover with hollow metal tubing. The kit resin parts are do not represent these guns well.
The tail wheel and housing also have a fragile gear strut. I replaced my part with two sections of hollow metal stock and inserted these into a hollow plastic tube which I ran inside the fuselage clear to the inside top and then glued. This makes a very rigid and strong assembly.
PROPELLER AND SPINNER
The kit propeller needs some clean up and I thought it looked too small. I know the A-8 had a small engine, and the pictures I have of the actual aircraft do show a relatively small propeller. After reviewing the resource material I had, I decided to go with a larger prop. I used a spare from a Minicraft Skyrocket kit which looks "right" to me when compared to the pictures I have in my Profile Publication (No. 128) and Peter Westburg drawings in Scale Aircraft. Also, although the kit instruction Injection Molded Parts sections clearly shows part No. 9 as a prop backing plate, the kit does not have this part on the sprue. Again, looking at pictures proved that one was there on the real airplane, and so I found a spare part from an old Hobbycraft Hurricane which matched the circumference of the fuselage front, and sanded and puttied it until it looked all right. It adds a little dimension to the prop area which looks more realistic. I have seen kits reviewed and written up which just glued the spinner to the fuselage, but it truly does not look right, and in fact is not.
I used .010 piano wire throughout the rigging process. The pieces were measured with a little extra bent at the right angle to go into the predrilled holes (one of the really great features of this kit) in the wings. I set the wing ends with a drop of superglue. The fuselage ends were anchored with filled epoxy shaped and sanded to look like the anchor points. I did the same with the wheel spat anchors as mentioned above. The wire was later dulled with flat finish lacquer.
DECALS, PAINTING AND WEATHERING
The kit decals were used everywhere I could utilize them, and they are excellent. I changed the aircraft number, using MicroScale (72-25) USAAF black numerals as needed. I did not have an accurate squadron decal, because I took a little poetic license with the color scheme and numbering.. The 90th Attack Squadron did in fact have a red outline like the one shown here, but it was trimmed with a thin stripe of yellow.
I used good old reliable Mr. Surfacer for the undercoat. The Olive Drab color (FS 30118) CAME FROM Floquil Military Colors, and (FS 13538) Chrome Yellow and (FS 31136) Insignia Red are from Model Master Enamels. Standard flats and glosses were used as finish coats.
Artists oils (black and brown) thinned with turpenoid were used to highlight panel lines and control surfaces, and pastel chalks were used for weathering and exhaust areas. Weathering was kept light as these aircraft were kept in very good condition during their lifetime with the USAAF
Profile Publications 128 The Curtiss Shrike Profile Publications, Ltd., Falkner & Sons, Ltd., Leatherhead, Surrey, England (out of print).
Peter Westburg. Line drawings, the Curtiss A-8 Shrike. Publisher unknown.
The Internet.. Various sites. Actually not much help here, except some small photos and profiles.
Scott Van Aken, Review for Model Madness - December 2003.
This was not a particularly easy build, due to the large amount of filing, filling, and sanding required, and the complicated rigging. But that is a part of modeling, and even if it was more work, I personally get a lot of satisfaction from having to struggle at times to figure out how to overcome problems . At least it is satisfying when it turns out well!! It was also fun to email and talk to other modelers who have built the A-8, and to get their insights and tips.
My criticisms are few and meant to be constructive:
- I would like to have seen the windows cut out and clear parts provided for them, and the upper air scoop opened up by the manufacturer.
- Bracing Struts required cleanup and fitting.
- Sparse cockpit and crew compartment sidewall details.
- Some resin parts (particularly the radiator) were very difficult to remove from their base.
- No prop backing plate, although the plans called for one.
- Some resin pieces were very poorly molded, such as steps, machine gun handles.. machine gun barrels.
- Two sets of canopies
- Very fine engraving of surface detail
- Good fit in most places. The filling that was necessary was easy to accomplish.
- Excellent decals and plans
- Overall accuracy of the model outline
The finished product is well worth the effort. It is a strangely attractive old bird, with its bumpy fuselage and long wings, and it is one of the truly classic "yellow wings" from the Golden Age of Aviation in the 1930's. I want to thank Czech Models for manufacturing it and I hope they continue to produce less well known aircraft.
Thanks once again to Roll Models and to
Brent and Mike for their encouragement of my efforts, their generous supply
of kits, and especially their publishing skills.
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